Nathan Larson, an independent running for U.S. Congress in Virginia, is proud to admit he’s a pedophile who admires Hitler and administered websites advocating sexual violence against minors and women – a fact he gladly confirmed to the HuffPost reporters who first confronted him about his online activities last month.
A follow-up investigation by Haaretz reveals that Larson, a self-proclaimed “anarcho-capitalist” in his late 30s, who boasted online about having raped his ex-wife, and who served a one-year prison term for making death threats against President George W. Bush, also maintained a long-time presence on Wikipedia under a slew of different usernames – all of which were eventually banned. Among the articles he edited were some related to pedophilic content, terms from rape culture and even the entry on “Threatening the President of the United States” – the crime for which he went to jail.
After being blocked from the open encyclopedia in 2008, Larson migrated his nefarious online activities to alternative websites based on the wiki technology but not officially endorsed by the Wikimedia foundation, which oversees Wikipedia. There he followed a similar pattern of posting offensive (and worse) subject matter, and was also banned. Larson may have even been the first person ever banned from RationalWiki – the unsanctioned libertarian wiki site, noted for being even more unregulated than Wikipedia.
Larson stands no real chance of winning a Congressional seat, but his run as in independent in Virginia’s 10th, a prosperous district just outside Washington, D.C., sheds light on contemporary politics in America, where someone whose positions are so abhorrent and rhetoric so violent they are banned from editing Wikipedia, but still feels emboldened to run for Congress. Indeed, even though he openly admitted having operated forums for so-called “incels” (involuntary celibates) that advocated rape, Larson still obtained the requisite number of signatories to be on the ballot this November.
Larson was initially banned from Wikipedia in 2008, when Barack Obama was first running for president, and in the years that followed, he hid behind a string of fake usernames to push his worldview. A review of Larson’s history with the online encyclopedia reveals a narrative that has resonated loudly in the age of Donald Trump – one of a right-wing radical who feels increasingly silenced by the mainstream media, in this case, Wikipedia.
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A troll is born
Larson, an accountant by training, first began editing Wikipedia in the mid-2000s, initially under his own name. He was an active and generally productive member of the nascent online community, contributing to articles, policy debates and even to the software that runs Wikipedia. However, problems were not far behind.
Larson identified as an “inclusionist” – part of a movement within Wikipedia that contends there should be little to no restrictions on the creation of new articles. As a radical libertarian, Larson believed that Wikipedia’s open format had the power to liberate taboo ideas from the shackles of politically correct culture. However, he was too radical for even the most inclusive of Wikipedia’s inclusionists, and by 2008 he was banned, initially for short periods, and then for life.
In the following nine years he created a web of over 50 fake usernames – “sockpuppets” in Wikipedia terminology – which he deployed across a number of Wikimedia-sanctioned projects, among other online sites. Using names like “Sarsaparilla,” “Leucosticte,” “Tisane,” “Obuibo Mbstpo” and “Libertarian theories,” he created and edited numerous articles, some of which even exist today.
A partial list of his contributions to Wikipedia include the articles, “Skunks as pets,” “Removal of cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act” and the “United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.” Others were more politically revealing, like the ominous “Threatening the President of the United States.”
Others had a clear sexual agenda: Sarsaparilla, perhaps his most infamous username, once tried to help save from deletion the article for “fantasexuality” – a term denoting love for someone “irreparably unattainable” – suggesting it be merged with the article on unrequited love. The user also edited the page for the topic “missionary position.”
Another of Larson’s alter egos, “Aldrich Hannsen,” contributed to Wikipedia debates about issues ranging from incest to Timothy McVeigh, to “Virginia's 1st congressional district election, 2008” – Larson’s first run for public office. That user also opened an article about Larson himself, which was repeatedly deleted, as well as defending conceptual stables of rape culture like “Neg” and “Cockblock.”
In a discussion about Wikipedia’s child protection policy, one of Larson’s usernames lamented the “censorship of the debate about censorship” on Wikimedia sites, writing that “it's been made clear that [...] expressing certain dissident views about adult-child relationships gets you kicked off the wiki.” Indeed, after he was exiled from all of the encyclopedia’s platforms (the most severe ban imposed by the community), he moved to other wikis to peddle his ideas.
On the libertarian RationalWiki, for example, as a user called Tisane, he edited extensively from 2010 to 2012, contributing to the articles on rape, Holocaust denial and even the North American Man/Boy Love Association. But after defending pro-pedophilia positions, he was banned from there, too. “Why create a child sexual abuse article and then only allow one side of the argument to be presented?” his user protested during a debate on the laissez-faire wiki.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Larson’s story is his almost fanatical dedication to the wiki format – initially with Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects (like Wikiversity) and later, after being banned, to other wiki sites. Even as a troll he attempted to participate in policy debates on Wikipedia and to this day his website is in the collaborative wiki format.
Larson was serious about Wikipedia. Before he was banned, he attempted to fight the “deletionist tide” washing over it from within; afterward, he attempted to form a “Wikipedians in exile” group to push his worldview from the outside. When that failed to gain traction on the non-official wikis, he turned to even more fringe ones – for example, yet another libertarian wiki called Libertapedia and the alt-right Metapedia, eventually setting up websites like ChildWiki.net – a “children's liberation advocacy” wiki.
Larson would frequently return to the same topics, promoting similar content across a number of wiki platforms, revealing a direct link between his political worldview and his medium of choice.
For example, part of Larson’s current campaign includes a call to legalize suicide. On Wikipedia, this was a topic his sockpuppets frequently edited, with user “Aldrich Hannsen” editing the page for “State-assisted suicide,” while Sarsaparilla wrote the initial version of the “Death care industry” – an article that is still active today. Off Wikipedia, this seemingly libertarian political issue took on a darker tone: for example, one of his alternate identities, “Leucosticte,” identifies himself with a website called SuicideWiki.org, which hosted “right-to-die philosophy and implementation info.” Moreover, as reported by the HuffPost, Larson was also involved with yet another a wiki site, this one called suiped.org – a “forum for ‘suicidal pedophiles,’ [where] Larson wrote numerous posts endorsing child rape and other forms of sexual abuse.”
Though marginalized by what he perceived to be the liberal Wikipedia “cabal,” Larson refuses to abandon the medium itself, exploiting it relentlessly to advocate for his warped ideology. In an email exchange with Haaretz, he confirmed that he was the person behind the fake usernames, and explained his political take on the online encyclopedia that banned him.
“Wikipedia as it exists now is like the Weimar Republic... stagnant and miserable. What we need is a führer principle. We need a wiki-Hitler to come in [and] impose order and rein in the petty tyrants who are wreaking havoc everywhere.”
This is a reference to Wikipedia’s volunteer administrators and bureaucrats who are tasked with resolving disputes and imposing sanctions on disruptive editors. Within the Wikipedia community, there are those who consider themselves experts in identifying Larson when he takes on a new name, and [there is] even an anti-pedophilia editorial task force dedicated to fighting editors like him.
Ironically, though Larson is barred from editing Wikipedia for both his online and offline activities, his past as a convicted felon does not prevent him from running for office – or even voting, at least in Virginia, where he was part of a group of ex-cons who had his civil rights restored.
However, despite the best efforts by Wikipedians, Larson told Haaretz about two previously unknown usernames that have yet to be banned - “Rad Racer” and “Captain Zyrain” – though both have been inactive for a number of years. Others claim he’s still active on so-called “alt wiki” sites, where, despite being banned he’s suspected of literally writing the article on “Online pedophile activism,” using a username called “L’s Ideology.”
Larson made a surprising comeback to Wikipedia this week, when he finally got his own article (devoid, for the time being, of any reference to his past engagement with the site), showing how its self-policing methods may be efficient for blocking editors who troll the encyclopedia, but are no match for wannabe politicians who troll America’s democracy.